I believe this is going to be my most honest and vulnerable article ever. It is raw, no-holds-barred, and I will be mentioning names, real names of everyone involved.
It happened when I was in JSS3, I was 10 years old. It was on a Saturday morning in boarding school, Lagos State Model College, Badore. I think it was after our morning cleanups, when we were supposed to be rushing out of the hostel immediately after inspection, to go for breakfast, and then, afternoon prep. I rushed to the box room to change from my white wear to cheque, or maybe to the pick something from my box, which I did not lock. On entering there, I saw Onyinye Ilechukwu rush out, which meant she also went to quickly take something from or put something in her box. Upon locating my box, I encountered a big problem.
It was locked!
It was my box alright, but it was locked with someone else’s padlock. I wondered why someone would lock my box. Whatever I wanted to pick was really valuable to me, and I felt since it was my box, I had the right to jack the padlock and throw it away. But it wasn’t those black padlocks you could simply jack. It was those side-shifting coloured ones. Anyway, I didn’t give up as the prefects were announcing “5 minutes more, 4 minutes more…”
Someone (I can’t remember who) came to the box room to get something from her own box, and saw me jacking the padlock. I said to the person “Can you imagine? Someone locked my box.” We discussed a bit, she left, and I continued try to jack. Seeing the futility of the situation, I left the hostel like that, as they were going to lock me in.
I got back to the hostel at about 4 or 5 pm, when suddenly people started shouting my name. I was confused. I was not like a superstar. Suddenly, someone dragged me, placed my box, which was now opened on my head. They were saying things like “Thief, Ole, etc.” they paraded me round all the female hostels, pushing me, singing thieves songs popular in boarding school.
There were fingers pointing, sneering jeering, staring, laughing booing, sniggering and snickering. The more I tried to explain that I had not stolen anything, the more they hit and pushed me around. My life was over. Things like this happen to other people, real thieves, not me.
They took me to Mrs Hamzat, the house mistress. I told her I didn’t steal anything. They had found Onyinye Ilechukwu’s ribena and other provisions in my box, locked. The girl who had seen me jacking my box (if only I could remember her name) had told everyone that she saw me jacking someone’s box, and I was trying to steal. I explained the whole thing to the house mistress, who did not believe me. I wondered why no one asked Onyinye how her padlock got to my own box. Would I jack her box, and then use her padlock to lock mine?
That night, Senior Kofo Allison, who was in SSS3, and had repeated a class, and largely seen as an olodo, always trying to feel cool with herself as one of the happening seniors, called me. She started acting like she was on my side. She first of all said I should confess, tell her the truth. I stuck to my story. She said things like I would be disgraced, etc. She said if I said I did it, she would make it go away, it would die down, etc. She did not allow me leave, basically bullied/cajoled me into writing a statement that I stole the items.
I had joined the choir about a month earlier. The next morning, in the dining hall, the choir mistress, who was also the food prefect, Senior Kemi Ogunbiyi came to my table, and whispered to me that I should stand on the table, so they could announce me as a thief in front of the whole school, as was the tradition. It was one thing for me to be labelled a thief in the girls’ hostels, but in front of the whole school? For a crime I didn’t commit? I started begging her saying “Senior Kemi please, senior Kemi please.” She kept insisting that I should stand up. The boys at the table were confused, but were more interested in eating up their food. I just kept begging, as the tears streamed down my face. My life would be over. After a while, she looked at me, and let me be. Needless to say, I was expelled from the choir. Mrs Hamzat (armed with the statement Kofo Allison bullied me to write) said I should bring my mum with me when I was resuming the next term.
Till today, no one ever asked me for my side of the story. I had been publicly labelled thief, so thief, I must be. I explained what really happened to my friends, that Onyinye (whose parents were always bringing her nice provisions) in a haste got to the box room, unlocked her box, but unzipped mine instead, threw her provisions in my own box, locked it, and rushed out. Or how else did her provisions and padlock end up in my box. So yes, I experienced jungle justice, only that I wasn't set on fire.
That Christmas holiday, I carried the heavy weight around. About few days to resumption, I told my mum everything, knowing I couldn’t return to school otherwise. I left out the fact that I had a written confession to the crime.
My mum did not even flinch as I told her about the incident. She just asked one thing. “Did you do it?” to which I responded “No.”
We went back to school the next term, and my mum went to see Mrs Hamzat. I told Mrs Hamzat I did not do it, and she said I was lying. She brought the statement out, and showed my mum. I was heartbroken. I’m sure my mum was confused. Anyway, my mum paid for seven times of all the items I allegedly stole, according to the rules of the school.
The reason I feel my mum believed me is because she never punished me. My mum is one of the strictest parents Nigerian families could ever have. She would beat your life out for every sin committed, and the one you would commit in future. In this case, she never punished me, and has never mentioned the event till date. I actually think she has forgotten about the incident.
When I finished JSS3, I left the school for another school, a day school this time. I never wanted to leave, but my parents basically uprooted me, lol. Ironically, I really liked that school, and I was just about to start my senior years, which was supposed to be the fun years of boarding school.
I saw Onyinye Ilechukwu twice after then. She was a year behind me, and had also left to a day school. For two consecutive years, we met at cowbell mathematics competition, where schools picked their best 2 math students in the senior and junior categories to write the test. She represented her school, and I represented mine. On both occasions, we stayed to talk like real old friends, but I don’t know if she remembered the incident.
Sometime in SSS3, when my mum was out of the country, after school, I took a bus all the way to Lagos State Model College Badore. This time, I was 14 years old, and I had one goal in mind. I looked for Mrs Hamzat, and asked her if she remembered the incident over three years ago. She seemed to remember a bit. Then I started.
“Excuse me ma, I did not steal those items. Senior Kofo Allison forced me to write that statement.”
This time, she was more receptive to me, maybe because I had come a long way to clear my name. She said I should not worry, that it was not a problem.
I asked her to find my statement and tear it up because I don’t want someone coming out in future to publicly declare me a thief because of a crime I did not commit. She said all the records and statements of student crimes had been destroyed, so I shouldn’t bother my head. She asked me to put it all behind, and live my life. She seemed earnest enough, so I believed her, and thanked her.
Even as at then, I knew that in future, I would become well-known in some circles, and I didn’t want this kind of thing coming to stain me.
The sad part is that since I was publicly disgraced in front of all the girls (it was not a small school) there are some people with sharp memories like mine, who would forever remember, statement or no statement.
If in future, any one should come with some false allegations against me, then I would willingly direct them to this post where I stated that…
“My name is Atilola Moronfolu, and I am not a thief!”